Heartbeat Bills & Abortion Bans: A Review of 2019 Abortion Laws
This past Wednesday, Louisiana became the 9th state to recently pass a law restricting abortions. Louisiana’s abortion bill bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected. Under Louisiana’s new legislation, often referred to as a “heartbeat ban” or “heartbeat bill,” abortions are outlawed once a fetal heartbeat is detected. For some pregnant women, a heartbeat can be detected within 6-8 weeks of pregnancy.
Opponents of heartbeat bans argue that the 6-week marker generally occurs before many women even realize they are pregnant. Similar to other recent abortion restrictions, Louisiana’s bill does not provide exceptions for rape or incest victims. Accordingly, these recent bans and restrictions on abortions aim to challenge the Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade which permits abortions.
The Supreme Court and abortion
In 1973 with its decision in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy based on the right to privacy.
However, over the years the Supreme Court and state laws have slowly chipped away at women’s rights to an abortion. Not 20 years after Roe v. Wade, in 1992 the Supreme Court upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that while a women’s right to privacy includes the choice to seek an abortion, states have the ability to restrict abortions once the fetus is viable.
In other words, states can pass laws restricting abortions as long as it does not place an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion.
Anti-abortion legislation in 2019
Currently, states have passed or presented two types of anti-abortion legislation in 2019. Four states including Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas have all presented total abortion bans. Under these bans, abortions are outlawed in most instances.
However, the only state to have successfully passed a total abortion ban is Alabama. Under the Alabama abortion ban, rape and incest do not count as an exception which would permit an abortion. Instead, a woman may only obtain an abortion in extreme cases where the health of the mother or fetus is at risk. Although Alabama is the only state to pass this type of abortion ban, the other states mentioned above have pending legislation.
The other form of anti-abortion legislation is the heartbeat bans. Similar to Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri have all passed heartbeat bans. Under this type of legislation abortions are banned after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically anywhere from six to eight weeks.
Abortion law in North Carolina
Currently, North Carolina law bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency. However, in March 2019, a federal judge ruled this ban unconstitutional, giving state lawmakers 60 days to either draft a new abortion law or appeal the ruling. The North Carolina Department of Justice is reviewing the case and has said it will consult with legislative leaders before determining how to proceed.
Despite the federal court ruling, anti-abortion advocates in North Carolina have joined the growing nationwide trend pushing for tighter restrictions. Separate legislation currently pending in the North Carolina legislature includes House Bill 28, which would ban abortion after 13 weeks, and House Bill 22, which would require doctors to inform women seeking abortions that the procedure can be reversed halfway through in certain cases.
What happens next for abortion law in America?
Based on the current Constitutional case law, it is likely that these heartbeat bans and other abortion restrictions would be deemed unconstitutional. On the other hand, with the recent appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and a conservative-leaning bench, it is possible that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
What do YOU think about this issue? Is this issue even important to Americans? Should states have the right to enact these laws regardless of other laws, including federal laws?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Riddle is a third-year law student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer she will clerk for Riddle & Brantley as well as clerk for Judge Allen Baddour, Superior Court Judge for District 15B in North Carolina (Orange and Chatham counties).